April 13 - April 19, 1995

Bye-Bye, Catalina High

Nearly A Quarter Of The Troubled School's Teachers Opt Out.

By Hannah Glasston

WHAT IF YOU owned a company, insisted all your employees reapply for their jobs, and then found out nearly one-quarter of them had decided to thumb their noses at you and leave instead?

Welcome to the stormy "new campus" reapplication process at Tucson Unified School District's troubled Catalina High School.

Catalina was once slated for demolition as land speculators and insiders pushed for a new southwest-side high school. However, that plan never materialized, due in part to an exposé in The Arizona Daily Star, and a federal judge's ruling that closing Catalina would cause racial imbalances in TUSD, which is under a desegregation order.

After that fiasco, which badly damaged morale at Catalina, TUSD officials declared the school a "new campus" in March 1994. That meant everyone from janitors to department heads had to reapply for their positions. The move was intended to give the place a new start, according to district administrators.

Linda Schloss, a former Catalina vice principal who had been working in the Flowing Wells School District, was brought in to be principal--a move which shocked many Catalina teachers, who thought she had contributed to the school's problems during her first stint there.

Schloss told the faculty and staff reapplication procedures would take place in early 1995, according to district guidelines.

The deadline for that process has come and gone, and TUSD confirms 16 teachers, including the nurse and the librarian, have decided not to ask for their jobs back. That's 16 out of 73 positions, making the loss a whopping 22 percent.

Bolting from the school are faculty members from the departments of special education, business, English, physical education, science, history and drama. Several of

the educators who are "opting out," disgusted by what they see as excessive vandalism, a lack of on-campus discipline and respect toward faculty, were more than willing to talk about why they're leaving.

"I don't like what Catalina has turned into," says Norma Inkster, the school's head librarian. She's been with TUSD for 28 years, nearly half of them at Catalina. Lately she's been outspoken about what she sees as a woeful lack of discipline on the campus. She complains kids wander the halls long after classes have started, many never finding their classrooms.

"I don't think we're giving them an education when they don't go to class," she says. Inkster, who'll retire two full years before she wanted to, says she knew as soon as Schloss was hired that things would not change at Catalina. "Linda Schloss thinks the kids should run the school. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I don't think they should. We're not doing the kids any good by giving them all this freedom."

Nurse Peggy Nehls, who's also not reapplying for her job, after three years at Catalina, 26 years total in the district, comments that Catalina "is truly the most dysfunctional environment I've ever worked in." Nehls says she's concerned about the safety and welfare of the students, noting that when children are injured at the school, they are not always brought to her office to be checked out. "It's my impression (the administration) is trying to suppress information, because any time I see a student who sustains injuries from a fight, I have to write up an accident report."

Nehls is also unhappy about the lack of communication. "I've never once had an inquiry on behalf of the administration on a single sick or injured student," says the nationally certified nurse practitioner. She adds that with the 114 adaptive education students at the school, there are a variety of medical problems.

"I worry about their safety and the fact that I'm still denied essential equipment like a two-way radio. About two weeks ago I had two emergencies at the same time with two ambulances. A paramedic asked me for my radio so he could call the front gate, and he couldn't believe I didn't have a radio that would reach that far."

Nehls says she's unhappy about leaving Catalina to complete her final year in another school. When she first came to Catalina she loved her job, and she loves the kids. "Especially the adaptive ed kids. I'm fond of them, and I feel sad to leave because they're very used to me. I'm sorry it had to end this way."

Physical education teacher Luci Messing, who's also Catalina's teacher's union representative and a general thorn in the side of the administration concerning the lack of control over what she calls "troublemakers and gangbangers," did reapply. In fact, she reapplied even though her position, which she's held for six years, was advertised this time around with a bilingual qualification. Messing, who's Hispanic, admits she's not fluent in Spanish and carries no bilingual endorsement, although she can communicate in Spanish when she needs to. Just in case she doesn't get that job, she's applied for four other positions at the school. "I figured it would be more difficult for them to say there wasn't a position for me," she explains.

Messing, who served as the head of the PTA's Safety Committee, which was often at odds with administrators over alleged unsafe conditions at Catalina, maintains she wants to stay because students need her help.

"Of course it would be easier for me to walk than to stay, but I didn't work that hard just to walk away from it," she says. "It might be good for me to leave but it wouldn't be good for my students."

As for other faculty who have reapplied, one teacher, who asked not to be identified, said she'd like to leave, too, but she doesn't have enough seniority in the district to be placed in another position. "Many teachers are as frustrated as I am," she says. "The administration hasn't brought faculty into the decision making. At Catalina teachers have been disempowered. All year we've been the bad guys."

Messing agrees, saying Schloss is "the first one to jump on any teacher who deals harshly with the kids. Yet she herself yells at faculty before finding out the whole story. She demands that we deal with kids fairly, that we mediate and work it out with all parties, yet she does not extend that same courtesy to staff."

But not every teacher at Catalina feels that way.

One staff member, who refused to be quoted or identified for this story, says she supports the work of the administration. And a teacher, who also asks to remain anonymous, is happy to discuss the other side of the issue, saying she feels the media has grossly overlooked the positive aspects of the school, and that the reapplication process will be good because it will get the naysayers out.

The teacher speaks passionately about her goal to "help kids who really need help" and the many programs at the school designed to help kids learn and grow.

"I love the kids and the population we have. We have a large mix of kids with special needs, kids from different countries, kids from different socio-economic groups. I like the diversity. Every administration has its ups and downs, and I really feel it is unfair to pin all the problems on the administration."

She says she agrees with Schloss' "kid-centered" philosophy. "Things have to be focused on kids. We need to get people in here who are philosophically attuned to each other. The place has been going bad for a long time, and maybe a fresh start is what it needs."

A fresh face will apparently fill the position of Ted James, freshman physical education teacher for boys. He's been teaching and coaching at Catalina since 1969, but with only a year and a half to go until his retirement, James says his job also was posted with a bilingual requirement. He says it's Schloss' way of getting rid of him.

But the unnamed pro-administration faculty member thinks bilingual certification is just the name of the game these days. She says teachers need to get used to it.

James doesn't agree. "I took it literally. I felt I wasn't welcome. I spent my whole career at Catalina--it's my school, I bleed blue and white. I'm one of Catalina's biggest boosters." But, he adds the main reason he's not reapplying is that Schloss doesn't seek out comment from the teachers. "Never have I been consulted about how I could help her philosophy. Maybe she's afraid of us because we demand answers about why the rules aren't being enforced."

James calculates the collective experience among the exiting teachers adds up to roughly 220 years. Those leaving represent what he calls "the heart and soul and strength of the faculty. As I look at the list of the people who are not reapplying, I have to say this school is really in trouble."

Not so, says a second teacher, who also doesn't want to be identified for fear of suffering criticism during the remaining weeks at the sorely divided school. She speaks in positive terms about the administration's philosophy:

"They come from the same point of view that I've come from for 24 years. That is, you treat the whole child. As educators we don't just get up in front of a class and lecture. We've got to know our kids; we don't just say 'I'm sorry, you're a bad kid, get out.'

"The biggest problem we've got at Catalina is that's what some teachers want. The kids are not hard to handle. They're not easy, obviously, but they need adults who are going to support them."

The older faculty members, she believes, want things the way they used to be, and, she adds, "They just won't find it anywhere." She says teachers leaving Catalina are going to find the same rocky road at any other high school. "We've got gangs, we've got fights, but so do all the other schools."

But all the other schools are not losing a fourth of their faculty, either.

"It breaks my heart when I see quality people who've held this school together leaving," says Messing. Among others, she mentions actor, local golf whiz and well-respected drama teacher Armen Dirtadian as one of the teachers who has not reapplied. "Armen has done such fabulous things at Catalina. His leaving is a major loss."

Sounding surprised that so many faculty had not reapplied, Larry Williams, regional superintendent in charge of high schools for TUSD, says, "It concerns me that the number is 16. But we anticipated some people would want to leave and some would want to stay. Percentage-wise we never figured out how many that was going to be, but I have to put this into perspective as to how it compares with other new school processes."

Nearly all the faculty members The Weekly interviewed mentioned how much they love the kids at Catalina. Those who are leaving showed no joy in vacating what one person called "a disaster of a school."

Principal Linda Schloss was unavailable for comment. Her secretary says she's busy interviewing job applicants this week.

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April 13 - April 19, 1995

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